When we left off, I was hanging in perilous female limbo in a McDonald’s located at the corner of Wabash Avenue and Jackson Boulevard in beautiful Chicago, Illinois. It is Monday, April 21st, 2003, and I have just received some pitiful advice from an acquaintance I have taken to calling The Cheat.
“So then what happened?” you ask with bated and somewhat foul-smelling breath.
Nothing particularly interesting. But I’m going to write about it anyway, because I can.
What happened was this: I finished lunch and left the McDonald’s. I started walking down Wabash to the film building, because I needed to register for summer classes so I can graduate sometime before 2008.* As I walked, I started to think about what The Cheat said about getting women’s numbers not because he was desperate to get involved with a woman, but to prove that he could.
Suddenly, that overwhelmingly stupid perspective on things seemed downright enlightening. I never have been one to just randomly walk up to a woman and try to get her to go out with me, based purely on the fact that she looks attractive to me across the smoky and dank dwelling in which we are both seated. There are two reasons for this:
- My appearance is frightening to other human beings with functioning eyes. Therefore, I need to break some kind of terror barrier to get a woman to acknowledge me as the ruggedly masculine hunk of beef that I am. I usually do this with my disarming charm and my impeccable and often irritating wit (and believe it or not, once in awhile it actually works).
- A girl sitting across a bar does not exactly scream “relationship potential!” to me. Sure, it is possible she’s sitting in a bar for the same loser reasons I am sitting in a bar, in which case we’d be perfect together. But that’s unlikely.
But, when I thought about it, if there’s no real intent behind my actions, if my goal is small enough, maybe it is worth the effort of going up to a random girl and flirting with her. If I stop thinking, “Gosh, I probably won’t want to marry her” and start thinking, “I wonder if I could get her phone number,” I’d keep my mad flirting skills honed while at the same time proving my self-confidence until I become what every man aspires to be: an ADD case who cheats on his girlfriend.
Epiphanies like these are what keep me out of the good schools.
So I was deeply mired in these thoughts when I realized I could see, through the magic of what little peripheral vision I have, a girl standing next to me. She seemed attractive, although it’s difficult to tell when she is squished up in the recesses of side-vision. I thought it might be a good idea to turn, confirm the attractiveness, and possibly say something witty.
So I turned, confirmed the attractiveness, and said, “Man, this is a busy street.”
She smiled nervously. Clearly, I wasn’t a hobo, which I supposed played in my favor. “Yeah,” she said, her voice as nervous as her smile. Or maybe she was just irritated.
“Do you go to Columbia?” I asked, trying to raise the complexity of the conversation.
“Yes,” she said. This was good, because now I could start bitching about any number of horrible things that are wrong with our school, and she would immediately agree and enjoy our newfound rapport.
Instead of doing that, I said, “I was just going down to 1104 South to register for summer classes.”
“Oh yeah? Me too.”
Cool. We were going to the same place, which—unless she decided to cross the street to avoid walking near me, which hardly ever happens anymore—meant I would have an excuse to walk with her for a few blocks, and maybe even wait in line with her to register.
“Are you a film major?” she asked. This is a common question at Columbia. Not to discriminate against the many other fine majors one can choose at our school, but you’re either a film major or “not a film major.” Either that, or I have the greasy, unkempt look of a man destined to be behind a camera for the rest of his life.
At any rate, I replied affirmatively, and she explained that she was a Fiction Writing major. This gave us something somewhat legitimate to talk about.
“I was thinking of changing my major to Fiction Writing,” I said, and I actually was for reasons that aren’t particularly relevant right now, “but I want to graduate sometime before the end of the decade, so I figured I’d better stick with film.”
“Ah,” she said, and smiled (not nervously this time).
Right about this time, the light changed, and we started crossing the wide intersection. We kept talking as we walked down Wabash, and we actually got along quite well, despite the fact that most Fiction majors are pretty loopy. She was actually grounded somewhere in this plane of reality, which made my conversations with her seem a lot less like a William S. Burroughs convention.
Eventually, we reached the film building and both got into the registration line. We continued talking as we waited, when I spied across the room something so overwhelmingly evil I found myself unable to speak, move, or even think.
I saw… The Ex.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the ex-girlfriend I’ve often praised for her Boy Scout-like adeptness with rope stood across the vast Herman D. Conaway Center, waiting in line in the shitty little pseudo-cafeteria, probably getting a plain bagel with raspberry cream cheese. She had her back to me, which was fortunate. I hoped to get through the line and up the stairs to the computer area before she saw me or, God forbid, we made eye contact.
You see, we didn’t really break up well. Or, more accurately, she didn’t break up well, and I followed suit by committing arson. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. A very slight exaggeration.
Here is the basic breakdown of events prior to us breaking up:
- After two short months, The Ex asks me to move in with her, citing the fact that I was generally there more than I was at home, that her place was more convenient to the school than my parents’ house in suburbia, and that—gasp!—she was in love and wanted to be with me as much as possible.
- I internally freaked out, but calmly and politely said I would think about it.
- Instead of thinking about it, I externally freaked out on a small group of acquaintances.
- The Ex caught wind of my minor freak-out, which was foolishly done in a Columbia-dominated public place, and decided to question me about it.
- I freaked out again, and she started yelling at me.
- We didn’t speak for three days.
- She asked to meet me, so I met her.
- We met, and she dumped me, citing the fact that she could no longer stand the sight of me.
- I, no longer able to stand the sight of myself, scraped together my dignity and wandered home.
- She called me the next day, bitched at me some more, and I got depressed and hung up.
- She called me the day after that, and I started shouting inappropriate things at her and informed her that I never wanted to speak to her again.
- We stopped speaking.
And there you have it. I am a horrible person and ruined a relationship with the only girl who has ever looked at me and said, “Well, he’s not too disgusting.” Needless to say, The Ex and I aren’t exactly on friendly terms, so when I see her standing in the same general area as me (which doesn’t happen often, but we do go to the same school), I begin to sweat and panic and explode with hemorrhoidal fear.
I also tend to run away when I see her. It’s not that I’m non-confrontational so much as I’m afraid of her. But in this case, waiting in a line for something I really needed to do (I ended up running late before class in the morning, when I was going to register, so I had to do it before I went home), I wasn’t exactly in a position to run in terror.
Which was unfortunate. Because she saw me. And then she stared at me until I turned around. And then we made eye contact. And then I started to cry.
“Is something wrong?” the girl with me asked. I had forgotten she was there. Here I was, all flushed and looking like I needed to find the nearest toilet; I was probably not making the best impression in the world.
Oh, shit, The Ex started walking toward us. And she saw me talking to the girl. That means she knows we’re there together, or at least we’re talking. This couldn’t possibly go well.
“Hello, Stan,” The Ex said. I looked into her eyes and saw rage and disappointment boiling together into some sort of Stew of Death™, and I started to get really scared.
“Hi, The Ex,” I muttered.
“I haven’t seen you in awhile,” she said, faking a friendly disposition. It may have fooled the girl standing next to me, but it didn’t fool me. “Where have you been hiding?”
Oh, God, she knew I’d been hiding from her!
“Nowhere,” I said, trying not to sound like a total idiot (and failing). “I just, you know, we hardly ever see each other. It’s not so unusual that we’d—”
“Who’s this?” she asked, looking at the girl, suddenly uninterested in me.
“Um,” I said. I couldn’t remember her name. We had just met, we were walking down the street—did we even exchange names? We must have, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was.
“I’m Erica,” the girl said sunnily. “Who are you?”
“I’m The Ex,” she replied, smiling at Erica like a lunatic. “Stan and I used to date.”
Oh, God. This is going to get worse, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. “Did he tell you about me?” The Ex asked.
“We just met,” Erica said, “a few minutes ago.”
“Yes,” I said when The Ex looked at me for confirmation. “We haven’t reached the pivotal ‘who recently ruined your life’ phase of the relationship.”
There are two things wrong with this statement. Aside from the obvious in-road for The Ex to open up a can of verbal whup-ass on me—citing the obvious fact that I was not exactly the good guy in our relationship’s collapse, and thus, who ruined whose life is very much up for debate (a debate I would lose)—I mentioned the word “relationship” in reference to myself and Erica. We, as of that point, had no relationship. Not even a friendship. Not even a casual acquaintanceship; we were merely two people who were alive and happened to be on the way to the same place to do the same task. “Relationship” does not enter that picture, and if it does, it is almost certain to scare away the innocent party.
Here’s what I should do from now on: not talk.
The verbal whup-ass came first. The Ex said to me, “Gee, you haven’t? I’m sorry.” Then she turned to Erica and continued, “Let me save you some time.” Oh, shit. Now I should turn around and run, registration be damned.
The Ex went on to explain in humiliating detail why I am quite possibly the worst human being who has ever existed in any capacity in this section of the universe. I wish I was in a position to argue with her, but I am not.
When The Ex finished, Erica stood there, puzzled by what had just transpired. There she was, an Innocent, forced to walk to a building with a person of the opposite sex, a seemingly harmless task. And, somehow, she had to stand there and endure the bloody aftermath of an unresolved, unclosed but still highly failed relationship.
It wasn’t fair to her. It was certainly fair to me; I deserved every pitifully accurate thing The Ex said about me. But these are not things Erica, who had known me for an approximate total of twenty minutes, needed to know. Certainly not. If she wanted to pursue it, she would find out on her own. But that’s her decision, not mine or The Ex’s.
Obviously, in addition to feeling humiliated, I also felt bad for Erica. I really didn’t know what to do at that point, but I figured the best thing to do would be to get The Ex the hell out of there.
“Why don’t you just get the hell out of here?” I suggested.
She huffed in that girly way that women do. “Why don’t you just get a life?”
Not the best comeback in the history of the world, but it was difficult to argue with. I said, “I will, as soon as you get out of mine.” I said it with a sneer, and I was very melodramatic. I thought I was being cool, and I thought it was a good comeback. In retrospect, I failed on both counts.
She did that huff again and said, “Fine.” Then she turned, bagel in hand, and stalked away. I tried not to look at her ass as she went, but I did not try hard enough.
With that storm over, I turned back to Erica. “I’m really sorry,” I said. I really was.
“Whatever,” she said, with a tone of finality that indicated that, in addition to being generally pissed off about getting inadvertently caught in the crosshairs of The Ex’s wrath, she would also want to have little—if anything—to do with me after this point.
I struck out. Not that I’m not used to it; it’s just not usually a direct result of my ex-girlfriend tormenting potential mates in my presence. I remember when she used to not be evil; those were the days.
But this just proves, to me, that bad things happen. I try not to be particularly fatalistic, but it all seems like karma. As soon as I did something that, deep down, I didn’t think was really a good idea (no matter how much I justified it consciously), it came back and bit me right the hell in the ass. Maybe it’s proof that the way I do things is the way they should be done. Maybe I’m just overthinking everything to justify my (well-earned) rotten life.
But either way, I must’ve done some bad shit, because the turnaround time on that karma thing was amazing.
*This won’t happen. [Back]